The pursuit of better performance continued until all the possibilities for improvement were literally squeezed out of the Yak-1’s mixed design characterized by an all-wooden wing.
In the process, alterations to the basic design gave birth to new, more advanced types – the Yak-9 in 1942 and Yak-3 in 1944. Still, given the high degree of manufacturing optimization achieved at Saratov factory, it was decided to keep the fighter that was rapidly becoming obsolete in production. Its latest version – the Yak-1b – contributed significantly to the wartime effort of the Soviet Union. These developments as well as some interesting facts from the Yak-1/1b history are covered in the current volume.
Combat history and comparative data
The first months of hostilities on the Eastern front demonstrated (see Appendix 1) that most air combat occurred at altitudes between 1,500-4,000 m, mainly because of the way bombers were used there. Bombers focused mostly on close air support, performing dive bombing runs and low level strikes to hit small size targets on the battlefield. As the fighters provided support for the bombers, they had to operate at these lower altitudes as well. Naturally, the performance of the MiG-3, LaGG-3, and Yak-1 – the fighters that were designed in response to the requirement for a high altitude fighter – deteriorated. The high-altitude MiG-3 suffered the most, becoming unresponsive and inert at low altitudes and falling significantly behind the German Bf 109 in terms of maneuverability. Even though some pilots achieved successes in this type, the MiG’s poor performance together with its lack of cannon meant that it did not meet the requirements for a frontline fighter plane. Late in 1941, the decision had been taken to stop manufacturing the MiG-3.
It is difficult to know the reasons behind such a radical decision to discontinue the fighter that was favored the most before the war rather than attempt to modify it. Most likely it was a combination of factors that among others included large losses of this type in the first days of the war, the evacuation of production to the east with resulting decline in manufacturing volumes, the Red Army’s need for the Il-2 attack aircraft powered by similar engines, and the shortage of aluminum caused by the capture of Volkhov and Dneprovsk factories providing up to 60% of all aluminum before the war. Meanwhile, surviving MiGs were being transferred to the air defense units.
The LaGG-3, like the MiG-3, was not without its own set of issues. The production launch of the LaGG-3 was slowed down by a number of objective and subjective factors, so it was late for war. In the first half of 1941, four (!) factories – Nos. 21, 23, 31, and 153 – together manufactured only 181 LaGGs compared to 387 Yak-1s and 1,363 MiG-3s. Performance characteristics of this fighter turned out to be worse than those of the Yak-1 despite being powered by the same engine: this was a result of the higher drag and weight of the LaGG-3. Furthermore, series fighters manufactured at Factory No.21 suffered from poor workmanship; their speeds would be 30 to 102 km/h lower in comparison to the prototype. According to the results of control evaluation of the LaGG-3 No. 3121422 of the 4th production series, it could only reach 503 km/h at 5000 m when equipped with eight RS-82 launchers under the wing. An aircraft from the 7th production series without rockets accelerated to 549 km/h at the same altitude. To some degree, the military could be blamed for such loss of performance: it was at their insistence that the LaGG-3 was equipped with eight rocket launchers plus two drop tanks. The young Lavochkin’s bureau did not yet encounter the bitter experience of dealing with the military’s requests to “improve” designs, something that Yakovlev’s bureau already learned about with the AIR-8 and BB-22. In combat, it became evident that the overweight LaGG-3 severely lacked climb rate, lost altitude rapidly during turns and banks, and stalled too easily. Moreover, the main undercarriage legs often failed during landings because poorly manufactured struts from Factory No.31 were prone to seize. While the hydraulic system and the powerful armament of the LaGG-3 were definitely advantageous, they required additional tools, more maintenance, and increased the mission preparation time. On top of that, it turned out that it was impossible to overhaul the LaGG’s hydraulic system in the field.